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Feature Drive: BMW M4 GTS. Image by BMW.

Feature Drive: BMW M4 GTS
Getting to grips with the scintillating, stellar BMW M4 GTS.


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5 5 5 5 5

Good points: Looks, noise, sound, handling, performance, aura

Not so good: Price, rarity

Key Facts

Model tested: BMW M4 GTS (Clubsport Package)
Price: N/A; second-hand examples rumoured to cost between £121,000-£180,000
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, seven-speed M DCT automatic
Body style: two-door, two-seat coupe
CO2 emissions: 199/km (qualifies for old road tax rules; VED Band J, £260 annually)
Combined economy: 33mpg
Top speed: 190mph (limited)
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Power: 500hp at 6,250rpm
Torque: 600Nm at 4,000- to 6,250rpm

Why does it feel like the BMW M4 GTS has to continually justify its existence? Having been announced for limited production in 2015, the 700 confirmed units were snapped up almost as soon as BMW opened the order books. That meant this super-focused, hyper-special M4 quickly became the sort of elusive car that will remain out of reach for the vast majority of motorists; us included.

Indeed, with a price tag approaching £121,000 when new, most people assumed there was some sort of typographical error there. 'How much?!' came the incredulous cry. 'For a BMW M4?!' Yes, at more than twice the price of a standard M4 Coupe, the GTS looked preposterously inflated. And, given it's a super-rare, highly developed BMW, those who moved quickly to snap the GTS up are on to a financial winner; conjecture has it that, one year down the line, the first examples of right-hand drive GTS M4s are appearing on the used market with tickets in the region of £180,000. That's a 60 grand mark-up. In a year. Oh, to be the rich.

It's perhaps worth recapping what the M4 GTS was about, and that means a brief history lesson (sorry). Since the famous M3 nameplate was conceived on a 2.3-litre, four-cylinder, 200hp, boxy, two-door saloon (coupe is pushing it, really) back in 1986, there have always been evolved versions to go with it. The list is near endless, many of them coming in the original 'E30' period - think Evo I, Evo II, Cecotto/Ravaglia, Europameister, Sport Evolution (often called the Evo III), Evo 3.2, GT, GT2 (an E36 in Imola Red, this is not its official name - it was actually the Imola Individual; it's just that GT2 looked neater), GTR, CSL, CS... the list of badges BMW has apportioned to the back of even faster versions of the go-faster 3 Series is varied and confusing.

For the preceding V8 model, though, BMW kept it simple. There was the 420hp standard car. There was a Competition Package , version as well, which tautened up the chassis but without any power upgrades (unlike the present M4 Competition Package , which adds 19hp, among more items). And then there was the M3 GTS, which shocked every person who was expecting a new CSL range-topper.

This orange monster took the regular 4.0-litre V8 M3 coupe and turned it into a proper challenger for a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. The engine was stroked out to 4.4 litres, bringing with it new outputs of 450hp and 440Nm, while the lurid bodywork was given a full aerodynamic package. The chassis was thoroughly overhauled, including a fixed rear subframe that's now a feature of all current M3/M4 models, while inside the interior was stripped of its rear seats and most of the luxury toys, and then drenched in Alcantara. The price for all this was nearly £100,000. A seemingly farcical amount when a contemporary M3 Coupe was about £50,000. Still, just 138 examples of the M3 GTS were built and it's something of an automotive unicorn today, being one of the rarest BMWs of all time.

The M4 GTS, then, is both a direct continuation of the GTS series and also the culmination of every M3 and M4 special that has come before. It harks back most readily to its 2010 successor, hence why it wears plenty of flashes of Acid Orange; a direct homage to the M3 GTS's body colour. You can see it on the 19-inch front and 20-inch rear alloy wheels, the trimming along the front edge of that gigantic splitter on the M4's chin, it forms the backing of the 'GTS' legend embroidered into the passenger's side of the dashboard and is used on the (optional) rollcage which resides in the rear of the cabin. Some think the overuse of gaudy Acid Orange suggests someone at BMW dropped some acid, as it were, when coming up with the aesthetic of the M4 GTS, but we think these touches (and that colossal, unmissable T-bar rear wing) are marvellous - especially when teamed to Alpine White for YG16 YHR, BMW UK's heritage example, rather than the Frozen Dark Grey the company used in all the launch imagery.

Yes, that's right - we said cars like the GTS are normally out of the reach of folk like us, but incredibly, BMW has entrusted us with its precious right-hand drive GTS for the most epic of drives. We're taking it to the Nürburgring and back, ostensibly to watch some of the 2017 24-hour race, drive the new CS variant of the M4 family and also see the new M8 revealed, but BMW's kind offer of letting us spend more than 1,000 miles in the company of the GTS gives us a chance to truly assess where this M4 sits in the pantheon of BMW's motoring greats.

If we adore the looks and interior of the GTS - with the optional Clubsport Package bringing in the cage, a rear-mounted fire extinguisher and six-point Schroth harnesses with the requisite mounting points (admittedly, these had been removed for our jaunt; we simply used the car's three-point belts instead) adding to the racing theme - then special mention should be made of the noise of this thing. Good grief, it is fantastic. Full titanium pipes are bolted to the underside of the BMW, and they transform the rather drab synthesised soundtrack of the regular car into a soaring symphony of glorious music in the GTS. True, it is rather biased towards the exhausts rather than induction - as per the awe-inspiring carbon airbox of the M3 CSL - but it's still raw, edgy and aggressive in a way we've not yet heard from any other forced induction BMW.

It's that soundtrack and the crunchy low-speed ride that dominate the early 'getting to know you' proceedings of our drive to western Germany. Switching the GTS between modes only alters the steering and throttle response. The M4 has adjustable dampers, but not from a button within the car; they're part of a three-way adjustable, bespoke KW suspension set-up, which means to change any bump/rebound, camber or ride height settings, you need to fiddle with the adjusters on the top mounts of the turrets with a spanner. So, as we have all the mechanical aptitude of a pork pie, we're not about take a set of sockets with us on the trip, meaning we're stuck with the suspension settings BMW has given the car at HQ.

And it's firm. On particularly rucked-up back roads, it's so intransigent that we're beginning to wonder if we've made a mistake, as 1,000 miles of this ride quality will be punishing. Also, the seatbelt buckle comes through one of the side bolsters of the otherwise exquisite carbon bucket seats, which means (because we're no racing snake) getting the belt secured is a faff, and then the clip digs into our thigh for the rest of the journey.

Yet what a journey it turns out to be. The uncomfortable leg issue is soon forgotten about, and the brilliant damping comes into its own at higher speeds and on less compromised surfaces. This is the mark of a truly brilliant set-up, and barely 50 miles down the A1, we realise that to say you couldn't drive the GTS daily is a mockery. It's no more uncomfortable or intrusively noisy on a motorway than a regular M4, and indeed it can even return around 30mpg when held on a steady cruise.

But you don't want to hear about that, do you? We'll spare you the endless miles of boring, near-ramrod-straight Belgian motorway commuting and skip to the juicy bits, which all take place in the BMW's homeland of Germany. First of all, the M4 GTS is unleashed on a derestricted Autobahn near Aachen, and very quickly shows how ferocious a 500hp/600Nm iteration of the M4 can be. It hauls past 125mph with an alarming disdain and batters through 150mph almost every bit as easily.

A long, clear run allows us to thunder on up to 177mph and the M4 feels composed and rock-steady at such velocity, although by now the aerodynamic drag of the splitter and wing are starting to make acceleration hard work. BMW claims the top speed is electronically limited to 190mph, but we suspect that restrictor might be a moot point in the face of the laws of physics. Nevertheless, 'quick' would be an enormous understatement about the sheer mind-blowing, wonderful way the water-injected 3.0-litre biturbo piles on both the revs and massive pace. The M DCT gearbox is fantastic, too.

However, the BMW's remorseless speed is as nothing compared to the chassis. The GTS is an extraordinarily gifted and immensely rewarding car to drive quickly. Chief weapon in its armoury is steering which positively sings feedback to its driver, with beautifully judged responses and perfect weighting. As electrically assisted set-ups go, this is one of the very finest you will experience. The carbon brakes are also tremendous, especially when you're doing nearly three miles a minute and, in the middle distance, a slow-moving Golf pulls out to overtake a German truck. The anchors inspire unshakeable confidence in the driver, and this allows you to lean on their prodigious stopping power time and again on the roads; they don't even squeak much when they're cold.

So, with these exploratory tests of what the BMW is capable of conducted, the chance to finally put it through a good workout presents itself within 25 miles of the 'Ring. In fact we were able to do so on numerous occasions. There's one drive that cuts out a twisty (but boring and traffic-clogged) bit of the D258 on the way to the Nordschleife, whipping us up and over a hill on a hairpin-infested back road. Another is the combination of the L83 and L84 between the towns of Kempenich and Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, a glorious mash-up of sweeping, open corners, tight, gnarly bits on hillsides and a plunging run through a dense, dark forest. And then the best is saved until last.

If the first thrash was ten out of ten, and the L38/L84 were 11 (it's one better than ten, isn't it?), then we don't know how to accurately portray the 25-mile, cross-country route the M4's sat-nav picks out to start our journey home. From Wiesemscheid to Büdesheim, via Nohn, Hillesheim and Kalenborn-Scheuern, what unfolds is one of those truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The countryside is gorgeous in its bucolic splendour, because as you crest each and every ridge on the road, you're treated to yet another stunning vista unfurling away into the distance. The roads are sublime - empty of traffic, with miles of sighting, the full array of corners and plenty of up/down goodness as they follow the topography. And the conditions are perfect, with the sun blazing away overhead and the M4's Michelins operating in their sweet spot, thanks to the balmy temperatures.

The results are electrifying. For 25 miles, everything else in the world just fades away from our consciousness, and it's just us, the road and the BMW M4 GTS. It's driving heaven and the Beemer absolutely monsters the route in a flawless display of body control, grip and driver engagement. It's astonishing stuff and is almost certainly the best drive we've ever had in our lives.

And so, when we eventually emerge onto a motorway heading out of Germany and back into Belgium - past Spa-Francorchamps, Liege and Leuven to Brussels - there's a hugely conflicting swirl of emotions within us. We are gobsmacked, stunned and exhilarated by the drive we've just had and the dynamic performances the BMW has put on during the course of the weekend, but we're also distraught that all that lies ahead now is 400-odd miles of motorway that will not challenge this singularly epic car in the slightest. And when those 400 are up, someone from BMW will come to take the GTS away. We don't mind telling you it's a devastating thought.

Yet, although it has undoubtedly proved the merit of its existence to us, we know the M4 GTS will always be a divisive car. People will drive it and not like it. They will lament the lack of dominant induction noise, the overly firm low-speed damping, the way the removal of the back seats and that ludicrous front splitter sacrifice much of the M4's day-to-day usability. They will cite its incredible price premium over the regular M4 (or the Competition Package, or even the not-cheap-itself CS, launched in the wake of the GTS's production run ending) as holing the entire BMW exercise below the waterline.

But we disagree with all of this. A lot of the GTS's issues regarding public perception of it merely come down to the passage of time, as it's still too new. And 'how soon we forget', would perhaps be the motto. When the E46 M3 CSL was launched in 2003, it most certainly did not win rapturous critical praise; it was on the end of pretty much the same mixed bag of commentary as the GTS received. Some people loved it, while others could not believe BMW was justified in asking nearly 60 per cent more for it than the brilliant 343hp standard car.

Incontrovertible facts, too, were these: the steering, while undeniably sharper and better than the contemporary M3's, was not the best of its era; single-piston sliding caliper front brakes were an absolute joke on a track-focused car like the CSL; the interior was as similarly lacking in creature comforts as the cabin in the GTS; and that 110kg weight saving was a total myth - BMW offered all the things it had stripped out, like Xenon lights, Park Distance Control and climate control, as options and speculators, afraid of what would happen to residual values of the most extreme-spec CSLs, simply optioned them all back in, making the car nearly every bit as heavy as the M3 upon which it was based.

Yet now, when anyone mentions the M3 CSL, everyone listening wets their pants in excitement. Don't get us wrong, the CSL is a marvellous, evocative and thrilling machine, and the noise made by its carbon fibre airbox is something that will live with you forever, if you get a chance to sample it. But by no means was it, or is it, flawless. And we're enormous fans of the CSL, having driven it on many occasions from new in 2003, right up to the present day. In our opinion, it's indubitably one of BMW's finest creations.

Nevertheless, with that modest lottery win in the bank, we know where our money would be going now. The GTS is something extraordinary. It does not have the obvious weaknesses of the CSL, it feels miles in advance of the rest of the M4 canon - mighty CS included - and we cannot think of a better M car that has yet been built. The GTS is greater than any M3 from history. It eclipses the and M2 , magnificent motors both. The M6, wonderful as it is, has never been a great sports car in any iteration. There have been some belting M5s, including the deranged V10 version of 2005, but all generations of the thinking person's super saloon have had foibles of their own. The new one's even going to be four-wheel drive, for goodness' sake.

So what else is there from BMW's performance past that could eclipse the GTS? The M1? The E9 3.0 CSL 'Batmobile'? The 2002 Turbo? Perhaps, in terms of the romance and developmental importance of these three truly legendary BMWs, you could make that case. But in terms of the driving thrills they give you, inflation-adjusted (if you like) to account for the level of automotive engineering available at each of their relative inception dates, they're still not up to snuff compared to this peak M4.

Which means we conclude with this fact: strip away all the guff about its gestation and pricing, and what you're left with is the magnificent, mighty, marvellous, mesmerising M4 GTS. It's the finest thing ever to issue forth from BMW, a driver's delight of a machine that will thrill and please and engage you like nothing else wearing the blue-and-white propeller badge. Surely that's more than enough justification for its wonderful and blessed existence?

Matt Robinson - 11 Aug 2017    - BMW road tests
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2017 BMW M4 GTS Nurburgring road trip. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M4 GTS Nurburgring road trip. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M4 GTS Nurburgring road trip. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M4 GTS Nurburgring road trip. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M4 GTS Nurburgring road trip. Image by BMW.

2017 BMW M4 GTS Nurburgring road trip. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M4 GTS Nurburgring road trip. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M4 GTS Nurburgring road trip. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M4 GTS Nurburgring road trip. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M4 GTS Nurburgring road trip. Image by BMW.


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